DeFrates column: Solving school violence problem starts with being more welcoming
I’m going to start with a solution, today, and then offer an opinion because too many solutions are drowned under the opinions which come before them. And for our community, here in the mountains of Colorado, and across the U.S., this solution is too important to be a post-script in a quiet paragraph after 63 percent of readers have quit because of frustration or boredom.
This is not to be the only solution, or even perhaps the best one, to the violence in America’s schools. But it is one which doesn’t require political majorities, huge funding bills, years of court cases, or even national recognition to make a difference. It is something you can start today.
Our entire community needs to take responsibility for making our schools a positive, welcoming, safe place for every student who walks through the doors. A place where every child can connect with someone and find support for their education.
So if you were shocked, angered, horrified, or scared by the national tragedy at a Florida high school last week, then tomorrow, do this: If you have kids, show them how to find similarities instead of differences. Teach them how to reach out to the lost, the abandoned, the strange, the uncomfortable people in their school. Encourage them to welcome to their table the characters who find themselves alone at lunch, or those who always walk in late and leave early every day. This costs literally nothing, and falls squarely in the “loving your neighbor” category.
If you don’t have kids, or want to do more, then look into one of the many volunteer opportunities in our valley that make a positive impact on the children who are otherwise at-risk for drifting to the fringe. Find a way to engage a child who might, without positive role models and a sense of belonging, look to anger and violence to drown out the loneliness.
There are so many amazing nonprofits set up to do just this: ACCESS After-School, Pre-Collegiate, Youth Zone, and Aspen Young-Life, to name a few. Or ask the secretary at your local elementary, middle or high school to find out if they need mentors, coaches or other support positions. Secretaries always know. Most local churches also provide outreach and youth-centered opportunities. Donate regularly if you don’t have the time. Pick one of these opportunities, and bring your strengths. Right away you will be a small part of a big solution.
I can’t stress enough how positive, adult engagement shapes the culture of a school and community. If you are doubting the strength of these actions because they seem insignificant or “touchy feely,” then you have never spent time in the halls and classrooms of a school whose culture is changing, so take my word for it. This is a powerful solution, and can happen now in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Standing in direct opposition to effective positive change, however, deep in the realm of dangerous, fear-based reactions, is the idea of arming teachers.
Sadly, allowing guns into classrooms is being given serious consideration and even tentative implementation in our own state, as well as nationwide. Last summer, Weld County offered training for 17 teachers interested in bringing weapons into their school through a national program called Faculty Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response.
I am struggling to verbalize how utterly dangerous, short-sighted and narcissistic this particular response is.
From an educator’s perspective, as a teacher who has had to go through intense “active shooter” training, and who, like everyone who lives in a classroom, has spent mornings imagining 100 possible defense scenarios while preparing seating charts and grading papers, this is the wrong answer for so many reasons.
Instead of moving our culture away from one that glorifies violence, by arming teachers we are telling every child, every time they look up from their notes, that more violence is the only answer. Kids internalize social norms every minute of every day within the school building. They push against barriers, and test realities to find out who they themselves are in this world. What kind of people will we create if that entire world is one where fear and violence stand in front of them eight hours a day?
Their education will be inextricably woven with images of deadly weapons.
While many teachers may be akin to superheroes in a lot of ways, we are not qualified to carry a loaded gun in a room full of children. Even highly trained law enforcement officials find high-stress scenarios incredibly challenging. These are professionals who have undergone years of rigorous training for when it is appropriate to discharge weapons, and they still make mistakes. Yet teachers are supposed to take a course that lasts a few hours and be “certified” to make life and death decisions?
Teachers make a thousand decisions every day, but when to kill another person should never have to be one of them.
Every weapon we knowingly allow into our schools is a failure. It is an admission of fear and an affirmation to our kids that there is always something to be afraid of and that the only way to quiet fear is with a bigger gun.
If we put guns in our children’s classrooms as a solution to guns in our children’s classrooms, we will lose countless lives, a generation of potential, and we will inevitably conclude that this was the worst “solution” we could have made.
Lindsay DeFrates lives in Glenwood Springs and is a sleep-deprived freelance writer who once wrote a ridiculous satire about this, and fervently wishes it wasn’t slowly coming true.